What Will You Do When Everything Changes?

What will you do when people stop using text to input and receive information from the Internet? How will you deliver information to people who can’t read beyond a fourth grade level? How will you collaborate at the office together?

You may think it’s far-fetched to ask these things; however, we can be certain that media technologies will evolve. In fact, media evolves quicker with each passing decade. When those changes occur, the way people interact evolves, too.

Just think about the way smartphones have changed our lives, both at work and at home. Phones have brought our jobs home, creating new concerns about being on the clock 24/7 and work/life balance.

Instead of calling a woman or man of romantic interest to ask them out, we text them. Worse, we also break up with them via text (By the way, I still don’t get this. As an older man, ending a relationship via text seems like a cowardly thing to do).

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Generally speaking, the smartphone has already begun to erode traditional literacy. With texts, emoticons, and a new reliance on visual media, we are seeing a rapid transformation in the way people are consuming information.

The Medium Always Transforms

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You know how I feel about social network specific-strategies. In a literal sense the “message is the medium” approach to marketing is a failure waiting to happen. Marshall Mcluhan was right, though, at least in the sense that media is transformative. It changes the very fabric of our lives.

Said Mcluhan, “Each medium, independent of the content it mediates, has its own intrinsic effects which are its unique message. The message of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.”

As the Internet progresses it affects every kind of related media, from email to video. It changes the very way we interact, learn, and progress. It is inevitable that this transformative change will continue, and it will do so with more and more speed.

In turn the need to evolve our skill sets at work and at home will increase. At a minimum, media evolution will bring periodic disruptive changes that demand quick evolution. To deny this impact is to deny everything that’s happened to our world since the Internet took the consumer world by storm in the nineties.

The question isn’t what will change. Instead the question is what will you do when it happens? Will you be flexible and open to change? Will you evolve? Or will you suffer the pain and consequences of entrenched thinking and denial?

The Evolution Revolution

It used to be that every seven years, you would need to adapt a new skillset and your career would evolve. For example, it became necessary to learn team management or email marketing or [fill in the blank]. Now in communications, you need a new skill set every year or at least a major evolution of an existing one.

We are in the evolution revolution, a constant state of change. Adapting to new media dynamics is a must for those that want to prosper. Or we can watch our skills rapidly decay into obselescence.

Technology is impacting many industries, particularly distribution and product types. You could say the same for just about any business that depends on online media to help conduct its business, from bookstores to the travel industry.

When I consider industries impacted the most, I can’t help but think about the music industry. Change has ravaged the music sector, from the death of album sales courtesy of iTunes to the transition of Clear Channel radio to iHeartRadio, a company that is heavily pushing its live music events for social media advertisers.

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In the case of communications, advancing media technologies are shaping our very well being. The above chart illustrates that the ability to embrace change is considered the most important skillset for any digital communicator.

This means we have to be ready to constantly innovate and adapt, no easy task.

The Medium Is Everything

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People debate whether or not Marshall McLuhan’s timeless theory the medium is the message is valid. Old school communicators hate it, but in reality they are being forced to evolve their messages dramatically to meet audience expectations in diverse media. In fact, the medium forces a complete change in approach.

Consider that those who approach social media with the exact same methods they used in traditional methods almost always fail. We could have all sorts of discussions — and unfortunately many social media experts do until the point of pain — about the nuances of engagement. But for the communicator? Social media changes everything, even media relations.

McLuhan would argue that we miss the subtle impacts media make in our existence. That is why we find ourselves having to catch up with change forced upon us.

When McLuhan espoused that theory more than 50 years ago, evolutions were subtler. Kennedy had just been shot, unfolding a national tragedy across television changing society and creating the question, Where were you when you found out.” That same drama unfolded for the Challenger accident and 9/11, too.

Today, we are likely to find out breaking news before it is officially reported across a diverse group of media, from Twitter and Instagram to email and radio. Further, while captivated, our minds will be distracted by something shortly thereafter on our phone or other personal device.

A Personal Evolution

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I like to tell people if I marketed using digital media the way I did in 2006, I would be out of business. Truth. First, I would primarily blog and comment on other blogs.

If you haven’t noticed, today there are more marketing blogs than there are rats in the DC sewer system. Every podunk agency and consultant on earth has a blog these days. What was once a rare and unique read is now pedestrian and boring.

Commenting drove engagement in those old days. Today, blog comments are few and far between with most of the conversation distributed across social networks and private groups.

Digital marketing has evolved to become social networking, and then content marketing, and then marketing automation, and now increasingly user experience-driven marketing. Content has moved from personality opinion blogs to visual media with video, photos and graphics driving engagement. Necessary skillsets have moved from basic HTML coding, SEO skills and writing to data analytics, creative visualization, and niche targeting.

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With these many dramatic changes impacting communications, the type of changes that would occur over decades (note the plural) in the prior century — I evolved. I had to, or else my career would sputter out.

Some of these changes were for the better, others were for the worse. Some made my business sing (two business books come to mind) while others were a bust or just a “me, too” addition (for example, our Google Analytics effort last year).

I moved from top ten PR Blogger to a social good advocate to a content marketer. My skills moved from blogging to book and white paper writing, to hybridized photographer/written content creator.

It would be easy to tell you that this is it, that I am comfortable, but in truth I am not. Just seeing how the agency business has changed so dramatically in the past couple of years is causing me to take an attitude of constant learning and an openness to change in every way.

I am also focusing on specialization. I have enrolled in two trainings that will take a total of eight work days in the next four weeks, all to strengthen my personal communications skill sets. There are more that I will need to take on if I want to stay on the edge.

Welcome to the evolution revolution. The great challenge for us as communicators is maintaining a constant state of learning. Only then can we transform and successfully meet the times over and over again.

The Medium Is the Method

Say what you will about Marshall McLuhan and the timeless media theory debate he inspired, “The medium is the message.” If you read his work, you come to appreciate how much he anticipated, from the destruction of privacy to the dramatic impact that electronic media change inspires.

While I believe a brand experience transcends any singular medium, I do believe the ability to navigate media change marks the successful communicator. Stasis in tactical approach is the fastest way to make oneself irrelevant. Communicators need to adapt methods to rapidly evolving media.

The medium becomes the method. At a minimum it defines the tactical approach.

Consider the mass scurry that occurs everytime Google alters its algorithm or Facebook changes its interface. Communicators across the Internet write posts telling peers and clients What It Means. Media change defines the communicator’s approach. On a larger scale, those channels must evolve frequently to remain prescient in the face of fast moving trends, such as integrating contextual data, visual media consumption, widespread spamming based on their systems, and more.

Worked Over By Media

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McLuhan said that “all media work us over completely.” He meant from a sociological perspective. Media defines our behavior, from consumption to interaction. Technology evolution defines the medium itself, forcing networks and traditional media to evolve or perish.

Doubt me? Go to your favorite restaurant and leave your phone in the car. Then watch everyone else use their phones. They ignore their dinner mates, or share conversation points with them, or even take a selfie (mates are optional). The smartphone defines our experience, both at the physical level as well as how we present our experience online (true or false).

Consider how integral social has become to TV’s existance. Yesterday’s True Blood season premier was promoted with a preceding social TV marathon. Those social media updates usually occur on mobile phones and tablets while people watch the show.

Keep in mind the iPhone was first introduced to the market in 2007. Android entered our worlds one year later. In January, 2014 66.8 percent of Americans owned a smartphone, according to Comscore. Thorough society-wide changes occured in less than a decade.

The Media Debate

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Last week I added my voice to the on and off again debate of whether (independent) blogging is dying. It was the first time I outright said that blogging is probably not a smart primary tactic for a significant group of companies.

Why say that? Online media has changed in the past 10 years. The difficulties and slow rewards of daily blog production in the face of other content creation options makes blogging less attractive in my mind. I would weigh other tactics first.

The discussion spawned here by the movement towards visual literacy saw some severe reactions defending text-based communications. Certainly text will not disappear, but I do beleive it will become a secondary form of content presentation as evidenced by significant trends. It’s not that photos are becoming dominant, it’s that people increasingly prefer video, photos, graphics, podcasts, etc. over text. That trend will only increase as more content is created and mobility continues to dominate Internet access.

Even discussions like this written post are becoming more of a niche form with every passing year. There will always be some who prefer to weigh their thoughts through the written word. But like the senior executive who doesn’t understand how to integrate travel itineraries onto their smartphone, we will be surpassed by the media change. Unless we adapt to the medium.

The medium is the method. We have no choice but to change or become irrelevent.

Exiting Facebook as a Marketing Vehicle

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For a few months now, I have been reducing my marketing presence on Facebook.

Generally, I don’t enjoy the conversational tone, and I believe Facebook is losing market power.

Another aspect is to create a safer place where I don’t have workplace colleagues and contacts reading my feed expecting the latest and greatest Geoff news (Woo. Hoo.). I’d rather have a closer family and friend experience there.

This seems to have happened by happenstance, anyway. In fact, of my current consulting and speaking clients, only one head of marketing is a friend on Facebook.

The linchpin was seeing organic unpaid engagement drop on blog posts.

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Coping with the Klout Reality

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Marketers and individuals will have to deal with social scoring in the form of Klout and its sister technologies.

As time progresses, technologies and alliances evolve. I haven’t written about Klout outside of general discussions on social scoring for a good long while.

There wasn’t much to say. I agreed in principal with many of my colleagues and their continuing coverage about the broken nature of influence metrics.

But I had a second reason: As a professional communicator, it’s become increasingly clear that we won’t escape Klout, Kred and PeerIndex.

The business marketplace cannot help itself. It will chase quick fixes to community building, recruitment and measuring individual online capabilities, making social scoring an obvious play. I have three reasons for coming to this conclusion.
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